Malibu vs. Coastal Commission

Cover of California Coastal Commission brochure explaining the history and objectives of the CCC.  From California Coastal Commission website, January 2006.
Cover of California Coastal Commission brochure explaining the history and objectives of the CCC. From California Coastal Commission website, January 2006.

Malibu vs. the California Coastal Commission

After Malibu became a city in 1991, the City Council guided the process of developing a Malibu Local Coastal Program (LCP) as required for development under the Coastal Act. By early 2000, work was nearly complete on a draft LCP to be submitted to the Coastal Commission for acceptance. Once accepted, Malibu could issue its building permits under the guidelines of the approved LCP and free itself of the Coastal Commission.

A city-appointed citizen committee worked for over six years to complete a draft of the city's LCP, but by the summer of 2000, the city had not adopted its own LCP. In 2000, the State Legislative adopted AB 988, born out of frustration when legislators in Sacramento got too many calls from high-profile people complaining about Malibu's land-use policies and perceived lack of progress on an LCP. Assembly Bill 988 directed the Coastal Commission to prepare and adopt an LCP for Malibu, premptively taking the LCP out of Malibu's hands in an action uniquely targetting Malibu alone.

Under AB 988, Malibu would still issue its own building permits, but according to a plan thrust upon it. Not only would this undermine the independence of Malibu, but alarmed Malibu citizens saw the Coastal Commission bureaucracy as a tool of environmental extremists who were eager for what AB 988 called "low-cost visitor and recreational services," a distant agency not at all sensitive to Malibu homeowners and their needs. Furthermore, no other California jurisdiction was singled out for such treatment, raising serious issues of the state usurpation of City powers and disenfranchisment of Malibu voters.

Malibu's City Council began a race to write a revised LCP, hoping to pre-empt or at least influence the Coastal Commission's plan. However, Malibu's own plan was rejected by the Coastal Commission. On Friday, September 13, 2002, with just two days to spare under the AB 988 timetable, the Coastal Commisssion adopted their plan by a vote of 10-1, in the presence of a profoundly disappointed Malibu delegation. The Coastal Commission's LCP for Malibu was a maze of 423 policies and an additional 319 pages of ordinances, a convincing demonstration of antipathy toward Malibu.

The Coastal Commission action was the beginning of a long series of challenges including court action, petition drives, and politial maneuvers to recover local control of Malibu's LCP. In late 2002, Malibu went to court to overturn aspects of the Coastal Commission LCP while more than 2,400 residents joined the City in a petition for a referendum on the issue. However, the court actions were eventually decided against Malibu in 2004 and 2005 since the Coastal Commission was acting under AB 988 and other valid state laws.

In a dramatic January 2003 decision, the California Court of Appeals declared the California Coastal Commission to be unconstitutional, a violation of the state's Separation of Powers Doctrine. However, the California Supreme Court failed to uphold that ruling on appeal and the Coastal Commission remained in business.

Development in Malibu stalled after 2002 while the LCP struggle went on -- no Coastal Development Permits were issued for more than two years. Malibu's own alternative LCP was finalized April 12, 2004 and submitted to the Coastal Commission as an amendment to their LCP. The Coastal Commission position remained that the LCP it approved in 2002 was the final document.

In June 2004, new governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made three appointments to the California Coastal Commission. Meg Caldwell from Stanford University, one of the governor's new appointments, became Chairman in December, a hopeful sign for Malibu that the winds were shifting and the Commission might be more reasonable in the future. By February 2005, after it was clear the legal route had failed, Malibu began considering Coastal Development Permits again with 95 applications for residential, commercial and municipal projects in the pipeline. In August of 2005, the city of Malibu and the California Coastal Commission reached an agreement under which the city withdrew its Local Coastal Program amendment application while the Coastal Commission agreed to work with Malibu to create a new one in a series of phases and with reasonable procedures for review and approval.

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